Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Terminus Part 4: Fight, Flight, And The Approach Of The Cusp

It's time to round off this short series of screeds.

If these "Terminus" posts have struck you, Gentle Reader, as unusually angry or strident, I can scarcely be surprised. I'm very angry; the country is going downhill far faster than even I expected it to go, and good men have done little more than complain about it. My contempt at such limpness in the face of social, economic, and political calamity has caused me to jack up the stridency of my prose. Whether that's for good or for ill, I can only wait and see.

* * *

The belief that our difficulties can be solved entirely through the political process is among the most pernicious fantasies of our time.

Regard well the political trends of the century behind us. Start from about 1912, to make it an even hundred years. I'm not going to do the work for you. Grab a pad and a pencil, and make ready to draw some graphs.

Top income tax rate in 1912: 0%.
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: $20.67.

In 1912, the year before the enactment of the Sixteenth Amendment and the Federal reserve Act, the nation elected Woodrow Wilson to the presidency. He brought with him a certain Colonel Edward M. House, a dear friend and trusted advisor, who had written a book titled Philip Dru, Administrator, about a Utopia brought about by soft-fascist means. The policies House's fictional protagonist pursued had much in common with those he commended to Wilson...and which Wilson, more often than not, adopted as his own.

We need not dwell overlong on the substance of those policies. What matters most is the attitude behind them, which is common to all statist thought: that wise men given unbounded power over the rest of us can bring about conditions far preferable to those free men could attain on their own initiative. That attitude informs every element of the Wilson Administration's policies, foreign relations not excepted. Many of those policies were made politically possible by the war Wilson had promised Americans he would keep us out of: World War I.

Top income tax rate at the end of the Wilson Administration: 77% above $35 million (2011 dollars).
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $20.67.

The Harding Administration immediately set about reducing the size of the federal government, in particular reducing its annual expenditures by about 40%. The Coolidge Administration largely continued Harding's austere-government policies. However, the personal income tax, which had already become an object of detestation to private citizens, remained in place.

Top income tax rate at the end of the Coolidge Administration: 25% above $1.28 million (2011 dollars).
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $20.67.

Forward to the Great Depression and its sequelae. Wilson's pet creation, the Federal Reserve Bank, had so grotesquely inflated the supply of currency and credit -- an average annual rate of 7.7% over the Twenties -- that when investor confidence finally wobbled and the "institutionals" acted to reduce their exposures, panic raced through the markets and the pyramid of inflated values collapsed. "Great Engineer" Herbert Hoover, a thoroughgoing statist, was determined to restore the previous state of affairs through federal intervention. Most poignant of all the measures of his administration was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which, together with the "retaliatory" tariffs enacted by America's trading partners, guaranteed a worldwide depression.

In the presidential campaign of 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran on a small government / hard money platform, opposed to Hooverian interventionism both implicitly and explicitly. Roosevelt won by a large margin...and immediately jettisoned his campaign platform. Among his very first moves was to command the surrender of all gold coins held by American citizens, and to forbid domestic trade in gold other than for ornamental purposes. Unable to decree an end to the redemption of the dollar by foreign holders, FDR started raising the dollar price of gold in increments, thus gradually reducing the federal government's gold exposure overseas.

Roosevelt and his advisors were politically canny. They assured his regime substantial support by a combination of methods, most notably their liberation of the labor unions from most of the restraints of the law, their enactment of a massive program of subsidies to American farmers, and the creation of hundreds of thousands of make-work jobs to absorb a hefty fraction of the nation's unemployed. All this, coupled to his cult of personality, the first one advanced by a federally guided and funded effort, allowed Roosevelt to do something no previous president had dared: He successfully ran for a third and a fourth term.

Top income tax rate in 1936: 79% above $80.7 million (2011 dollars).
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: $35.00, private ownership illegal.

Roosevelt, like Wilson, campaigned for re-election in 1940 on a no-war promise: "Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." But after the depression that surged back in 1939 proved intractable, he found it expedient to renege on that promise. Roosevelt, like Wilson, had a habit of lying for political purposes...especially the promotion of his cult of personality.

Top income tax rate in 1941: 81% above $76.3 million (2011 dollars).
Top income tax rate in 1942: 88%.
Top income tax rate in 1944: 94%.
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $35.00, private ownership still illegal.

With the cessation of World War II and the demobilization of America's 11 million man draft Army, massive reductions in the size of the federal Leviathan became plausible...and failed to occur. The Truman Administration terminated Roosevelt's war contracts, but it retained the immense superstructure of the wartime regulatory state essentially intact. Several companies that had grown very large on war contracts, and had succeeded in eliminating smaller competitors thereby, lobbied for the retention of the regulatory regime as a stability measure. When the Korean War broke out and American forces were once again sent into a foreign adventure, those companies smoothly resumed their wartime businesses, albeit on a smaller scale.

Top income tax rate in 1954: 91% above $1.67 million (2011 dollars).
Consumer Price Index: 26.86
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $35.00, private ownership still illegal.

The Eisenhower Administration was centrist in its overall behavior. The Democrats controlled Congress, making it difficult for Eisenhower, a conservative by temperament, to haul down any of the larger manifestations of the federal Leviathan. Though the United States was at peace throughout the Eisenhower period, the federal government's activities were largely unchanged -- certainly undiminished -- from the Korean War years.

Top income tax rate in 1961: 91% above $1.67 million (2011 dollars).
Consumer Price Index: 29.92
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $35.00, private ownership still illegal.

John F. Kennedy, who enjoyed a favorable Congress, was able to curb new federal excesses with fair effectiveness, though he wasn't inclined to attack existing ones. He did, however, appreciate the economically retardant effect of high income taxes, and rammed through a reduction in rates as a key part of his economic program.

Top income tax rate in 1964: 77% above $2.85 million (2011 dollars).
Consumer Price Index: 31.02
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $35.00, private ownership still illegal.

Lyndon Johnson was Big Government personified. He believed passionately in government's ability to solve problems, bring about social improvements, and generally advance the nation on all fronts. To him, we owe Medicare and Medicaid, massive expansions of the Social Security entitlement and the federal welfare system, "urban renewal," and of course the great expansion of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Despite the continuously ballooning costs of all these things, he never retreated from his conviction that government is, if not the only answer, at least an effective one, to most phenomena viewed as "problems.

Top income tax rate in 1968: 70% above $1.42 million (2011 dollars).
Consumer Price Index: 34.90
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: $42.25, private ownership still illegal.

Richard Nixon, though reviled by Establishment historians, is generally underappreciated. Every president since Wilson had argued for or passively conceded the necessity of military conscription: "the draft." Certainly no president had made any attempt to limit or rescind it. Nixon made that possible by dramatically reducing America's commitment of troops to the Vietnam War: by 1972, it was down to 10% of Johnson's commitments. The indefinite suspension of conscription, in August 1973, was among the proudest achievements of his administration -- and bitterly opposed, not merely by Democrats but by a substantial fraction of Congressional Republicans.

Yet Nixon was no libertarian. He ended the redeemability of the dollar by foreign holders -- "closed the gold window" -- in 1971, making the dollar a purely fiat currency. The federal regulatory state continued to swell, including the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency, one of Washington's most vicious creations. He imposed wage and price controls during the 1973 recession. Federal revenues and expenditures continued to increase.

Top income tax rate in 1976: 70% above $0.53 million (2011 dollars).
Consumer Price Index: 57.00
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: still $42.25, private ownership illegal.

Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II...all have permitted, some eagerly and some grudgingly, the expansion of the federal government, its power and prerogatives, and of course its revenues and expenditures. Even Reagan, the self-described "small-l libertarian," proved unable to halt the expansion of the regulatory state; the number of persons on the federal payroll increased by 13% during his eight years in office. As for the explosion in deficit spending, it speaks for itself.

Need I say anything about Barack Hussein Obama? Or that the continuing belief in political saviors is unsupported by our historical experiences?

Top income tax rate in 2012: 35% above $0.38 million (2011 dollars).
Consumer Price Index: 228.43
Price of 1 Troy oz. of gold in dollars: $1660.00, private ownership legal once more.

* * *

We have seen a century-long convergence on an Omnipotent State, seldom impeded in any degree by whatever regime held power in Washington. For the most part it's been gradual, except when a crisis -- usually a war -- has provided a pretext for acceleration. For the private citizen, life has become ever more complex, more expensive, and less free.

In time with the expansion of federal power and the erosion of private rights has come a steadily broadening and intensifying campaign against general knowledge of what's going on. This campaign has been conducted both inside and outside the halls of power; government, the media, and numerous special interests have all colluded to deflect public attention away from the progression toward totalitarian control of the nation.

Privileged special interests, whether by legislation or lax enforcement of the law, have begun to Balkanize the nation around provincial and notional concerns. Of course, there has never been a time when sectional interests haven't clashed over sectionally relevant matters such as tariffs, but today's constellation -- racial, gender, ethnic, sexual orientation, educational, environmental, labor unions, and so forth -- has attempted to shut down open-minded discussion of nearly every important subject in political discourse. Seldom do the flacksters for such interests argue for their positions on rational grounds, with objective evidence for support; they'd much rather denounce their opponents as racists, sexist, xenophobes, homophobes, enemies of the environment, enemies of education, or what have you.

The core of the power-seeker's strategy is to divide to conquer. Therefore, it is his aim, wherever and whenever possible, to cause citizens to gather into issue-oriented groups that other issue-oriented groups will view as competitors for government privileges and public allegiance. In recent years, the campaign's public-sector component has become completely visible and maximally vile, yet seemingly nothing can be done to halt it. The private-sector components have become ever bolder about their use of intimidation, threats, and outright violence.

Everything has begun to move very, very fast.

The cusp -- the point at which the rates of change become infinite -- has been approaching for some time. It may have arrived in 2012. At the cusp, there are only two alternatives: fight and flight.

If you dislike both, why sit you here idle?

* * *

The inevitable question is, of course, "But what can I, a mere individual, do about it?"

I can't answer that question for everyone in every set of circumstances. Many persons have proffered advice of various sorts. All of it is good:

  • Save aggressively, and put a great part of those savings into precious metals, the only trustworthy store of value over time.
  • Fill your available storage with foods that have long shelf lives, and other necessities of life unlikely to degrade over the long term.
  • Arm yourself. Become proficient in the use of firearms. Teach your spouse and your children, as well.
  • Minimize your dealings with large companies and companies based outside your locale. Big Business is the handmaiden of Big Government; you cannot have an economy dominated by gargantuan companies without Big Government to suppress smaller competitors through taxation and regulation. Therefore, prefer more local merchants over distant ones, and smaller ones over larger ones, whenever you have a choice in the matter.
  • Get onto the best possible terms with your neighbors, such that you all know that you can count on one another's assistance and support in most imaginable crises.
  • Explore the virtues of "non-dollar-based" commerce. (This has cost me a couple of thousand dollars in giveaways: pure silver and copper coins made by private coiners. Such gifts always come as a surprise, and are always appreciated.)
  • "Raise consciousness" -- a detestable term, but I can't think of a better one -- among your neighbors and colleagues about the national crisis, and the role individuals can play in halting and reversing our slide toward destruction.

In other words, dig in. Provide for unpleasant contingencies, marshal as many allies as you can find, avoid funding the enemy, and make ready to resist his further assaults, as best you can.

Trouble is, not everyone can follow that program. It takes a lot of discipline, plus the willingness to forgo the enjoyment of certain opportunities and pleasures. Families with minor children will find it especially difficult to hew to it.

All the same, there's hardly a measure available to the ordinary American family that's missing from that list.

* * *

As it has been said for centuries, those who want peace must prepare for war. Similarly, those of us determined to maintain our freedom must be prepared to resist incursions on it. The only conceivable means by which the power-mongers can be deterred, and possibly compelled to retreat, is the creation of an informal resistance force ready, willing, and able to fight and too large and too well prepared to be overcome by the tools and methods at their disposal.

I don't want a violent revolution; in the classic formulation, I'm "too old for that shit." Many of us would say the same. And indeed, this conflict might outlive us all. Thus, those who have minor children must take care to educate them, as we've educated ourselves, in the use of the government-run schools as instruments of propaganda, the history of the United States, the evils of unlimited power, and the means of keeping all power in check. Indeed, that might prove to be the most important item of resistance of all; contemplate how much of the propaganda we've been slathered with is founded on propositions about the welfare of America's children.

The cusp -- the terminus of the American concept of individual liberty and our experiment in Constitutionally constrained government -- may not yet be upon us. But given your knowledge of history, your perception of the battles in progress, and your sense for today's rates of change, how long do you think we have left?

"Up on your feet, you ward heelers, you courthouse loafers. Can you not see that Rome is burning?" -- Robert A. Heinlein, The Puppet Masters


lizp said...

Thank you, and I agree most heartily. Pantries are being refilled, storage space is being maximized. Appropriate stashes are stashed.

Virgil Caine said...

I would make one addition to the list: be prepared to assist those who are targeted by the regime. Funds, a place to stay, transportation, immediate (as in trauma) medical aid, a hot meal....whatever you are individually prepared to provide.

KG said...

And communications. Because the regime will most certainly have those locked down or monitored.

Denis said...

Aye, you have it right. I don't know just exactly what will be the trigger event- there are way too many possiblities now!- but I too see a storm a'coming.

Bill Quick's got an excellent survival blog you may find helpful:
(I do hope that links are allowed- if not, please remove it.)

And I fully agree, "I'm too old for this shit!"